It’s still amazing to me that I’ve become such a huge Ghost in the Shell fan over the past few months, what with its dark cyberpunk atmosphere, its awesome soundtrack, and its colorful cast. Of course, I’ll admit to being something of a Johnny-come-lately since my first glimpse wasn’t the original 1995 film, but rather the first anime series, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which was followed by the second series, 2nd GIG, both of which I’ve already reviewed.
That said, I have caught up with some of the films of this franchise, so today you get a three-part rapid-fire review of the Ghost in the Shell film series.
Part I: Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Since it was created in the Nineties, the animation of this film seems quite a bit different from what you might expect in the more recent films and anime. Even so, the story is just as strong and, if anything, even darker than its successors.
We’re introduced to Kusanagi, Batou, and the rest of Section 9 as they take on a ghost-hacker who calls himself “the Puppet Master.” What makes him such a threat is that he can implant false memories into people without them realizing it, turning them into tools to sow international chaos. Of course, just like with the Laughing Man of Stand Alone Complex, the truth behind the Puppet Master is far more complex, who’s only pointing out the real threat to Section 9.
I will admit that I found the beginning and end very exciting, while the middle just plodded on for a bit. Also, for anyone who’s watched the anime, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn does not voice Major Motoko Kusanagi in the English dub for this film (the voice actress here is Mimi Woods), but the rest of the cast remains unchanged. I also watched the CGI-updated version, Ghost In The Shell 2.0, and while the added CG effects were good in and of themselves, they were still jarring with the rest of the traditional animation.
So what did I like most about the original film? It had a great story and I loved the opening title sequence depicting the creation and refinement of the Major’s synthetic body. As for what I didn’t like, I’d have to say it was the soundtrack. It just didn’t thrill me the way Yoko Kanno‘s music did in the anime.
The sequel to the original 1995 film visually resembles the 2008 remake of that film: a blend of traditional anime style and obvious CGI. It also carries on the puppetry motif from the first film, whose antagonist was the “Puppet Master,” while here actual puppets are employed. In Innocence, Section 9 has to investigate a string of suicides by female robots, or gynoids. After the Major left at the end of the first film, Batou and Togusa have had to manage Section 9 in her place.
I was interested to see how the film managed to not include the iconic Major Kusanagi for most of the story, putting more focus on Batou’s own issues. There was also a great sequence with Batou and Togusa that repeated itself no less than three times (with some slight variations) that played up that whole feeling of déjà vu in a very dream-like manner (much like how Inception tried to invoke everything we know about our own dreams). Beyond that, however, I felt a little underwhelmed. This film just didn’t sit with me the way the original Ghost in the Shell or the anime did.
Part III: Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society (2006)
Originally released in Japan as a made-for-TV movie, Solid State Society is a sequel to the second anime series, 2nd GIG. However, thematically, it ties into the first two Ghost in the Shell films by way of a new villain known as “The Puppeteer” and the notable absence of Major Kusanagi from Section 9.
Two years after the Major resigned, Togusa has become the new leader for Section 9. He and Batou are given the job of investigating a series of induced suicides by several public officials, which may be related to a dispute between factions from the Siak Republic. When the Major suddenly resurfaces, they discover that there may be a greater threat on the horizon, one that has to do with senior citizens hooked into the Japanese nursing net, thousands of covertly abducted children, and a conspiracy led by a zealous right-wing Assemblyman. The conflict moves fast and will test everything the members of Section 9 know and trust about themselves.
Essentially, this movie took a potential anime series and crammed it into a span of just under two hours. It keeps the flow of action and dialogue that the previous two anime series has, although a few lines toward the end hint at a continuity with the original films. I liked how it gave some good character development to guys like Batou, Togusa, and Saito, while also playing up the angle that everything they can rely on might be subverted, such as Batou’s “gut feeling,” Togusa’s love for his family, and Saito’s sniper-assisting ocular implant. It also doesn’t wrap everyone up in the end, leaving room for either future storylines or just some nice ambiguity.
The first two Ghost in the Shell films are visually and thematically appealing, although they tend to run more on exposition and dialogue than solid action in my opinion. There’s more of a balance in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society, which ultimately affirms my affection for the two anime series. Even so, the films are all part of a great exploration into the implications of this dark and fascinating vista of the future, where the line between man and machine is increasingly blurred.
Bibliography: Ghost in the Shell (film). Directed by Mamoru Oshii. Produced by Yoshimasa Mizuo, Ken Matsumoto, Ken Iyadomi, and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa. Shochiku (studio). Manga Entertainment, 1995.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. Produced by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and Toshio Suzuki. Production I.G., Studio Ghibli. Go Fish Pictures, Bandai Entertainment, 2004.
Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society. Directed by Kenji Kamiyama. Produced by Production I.G. SkyPerfecTV! Animax, 2006.